Who’s Watching the Kids?

It wasn’t long ago that we saw the Echo bloom into existence as a standalone product from its conceptual roots as a smartphone utility. These little black columns have hardly collected their first film of dust on our coffee tables and we’re already seeing similar technology debut on the toy market, which causes me to raise an eye-brow.

There seems to be some appeal towards making toys smarter, with the intent being that they may help a child learn while they play. Fair enough. It was recently announced that a WiFi enabled, “Hello Barbie” doll will be released sometime this Fall. This new doll will not only be capable of responding to a child’s statements and questions by accessing the Internet at large, it will also log the likes and dislikes of its new BFF on a cloud database so that it can reference the information for later conversations. Neat, right? Because it’s totally safe to trust the Internet with information innocently surrendered by your child.

Similarly there is a Kickstarter going on right now for a re-skinned box-o-internet for kids in the shape of a dinosaur. The “GreenDino”, is the first in a new line called, CogniToys, from a company touted by IBM which has its supercomputer, Watson, working as a backbone to answer all of the questions a child might ask. In addition to acting as an informational steward, the GreenDino will also toss out questions, and upon receiving a correct answer, respond with praise.

Advancements in technology are stellar. Though I can see where a child version of myself would love having an infinitely smart robot dinosaur to bombard with questions, in the case of WiFi and cloud connectivity, the novelty doesn’t outweigh the potential hazards the technology is vulnerable to. Like what, you ask?

Whether on Facebook or some other platform, adults accept the unknown risks involved when we put personal information out on the Internet. Say for instance I allow some mega-corporation to store on their cloud that my favorite color is yellow. By doing so, I accept the potential outcome that I will be thrown into a demographic and advertised to… or in ten years be dragged to an internment camp by a corrupt yellow-hating government who subpoenaed information about me from the corporation I consensually surrendered it to.

The fact is that I understand those types of risks… no matter how extreme and silly they might seem. The child playing with the Barbie does not.

All worst case scenarios of personal data leakage and misuse aside, what happens when Barbie starts wanting accessories? Or says to their new BFF something like, “Wouldn’t we have so much more fun if I had a hot pink convertible?”

Don’t Blink, Ken… Or The Weeping Barbie Will Get You

WeepingBarbies
That which holds the image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel. Have fun with that.

Barbie dolls have been around since 1959, but never before have they been this terrifying. [anthropolywog] decided to kick the creepy factor up a notch by modifying some poor, defenseless Barbie dolls into weeping angels.

If you aren’t familiar with the weeping angel concept, you probably don’t watch Dr. Who. The weeping angel episode, titled “Blink“, is now considered a classic Dr. Who episode. The basic premise is that some creepy, weeping stone statues can move only when no one is looking at them. Even closing your eyes for a moment to blink is enough to get them to move. It’s actually quite terrifying, but also awesome.

[anthropolywog] started by purchasing several ordinary Barbie dolls. She then cut off all of the arms at the elbow. This is because the Barbie arms do not normally bend at the elbow, and this was required to get that classic weeping angel pose. The hair was glued up into a bun, similar to the weeping angels from the show. The Barbies were then hot glued to wooden stands to make it easier to work on them.

Crinkle cotton fabric was then cut into a simple dress shape and draped over the dolls. The entire doll was then sprayed with a mixture of Elmer’s glue and water. This stiffens up the fabric and makes the whole thing look more statuesque.

The most complicated part was the wings. [anthropolywog] hand-made the wings from cardboard and craft feathers. This process took several hours of work in order to get something that would look right.

The dolls were primed for paint separately from the wings. The wings were then attached, and the whole doll was painted with “natural stone” textured spray paint. The final touch was to re-draw the faded eyes and mouths with a fine tipped permanent marker. You can see in the photo that the result turned out very well.

[via Reddit]

Warthog laser tag

The Warthog from Halo is one of the most beloved video game vehicles. [Tim Higgins] brings the fun to life with his laser tag Warthog game. It uses Barbie Power Wheels toys as a base and adds laser tag weaponry. Xbox 360 controllers are used but just like in Halo, you can’t control the gun and the vehicle at the same time. We’ve encountered [Tim’s] love for water-based amusement before and this did originally start out with a water cannon powered by a wind-shield washer reservoir.

Take a look at the videos after the break as well as his recent post for information about the hardware. His choices for controller circuitry are way overpowered, sourcing an Eee PC to do the heavy lifting. This is because the choices he made were for easy development and not economy of components. A PC has no problem connecting to Xbox 360 controllers, and the modular control boards mean no complicated circuit design or arduous soldering were necessary. In the end, this looks like a ton of fun and we give him bonus points for repainting the pretty pink plastic that comes standard with these models of children’s toys.

Continue reading “Warthog laser tag”

OpenVulture, software for unmanned vehicles

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The first talk of ShmooCon was [Ethan O’Toole] and [Matt Davis] presenting their OpenVulture software for unmanned vehicles. In the initial stages, they had just planned on building software for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, but realized that with the proper planning it could be used with any vehicle: airplanes, cars, boats, and subs (or more specifically, their Barbie PowerWheels). The software is in two parts. First is a library that lets you communicate with each of the vehicle’s modules. The second half is the actual navigation software.

They’ve spent a lot of time sourcing hardware modules. They are looking for items that work well, aren’t too expensive, and have a fairly plug and play implementation. For their main processor, they wanted something that wasn’t a microcontroller and could run a full Linux system. The ARM based NSLU2 NAS seems to be the current frontrunner. You can find the opensource software and descriptions of the supported modules on their site.

They’re building the first test UAVs now. One has a 12 foot wingspan for greater lift and stability. We’ve covered the Arduino based Ardupilot and other UAVs in the past.

Fun with Barbie karaoke machines


[Peter Edwards] at Casper Electronics built a modular synth and integrated it with the Barbie karaoke machines we saw at Notacon last April. The complete unit consists of 25 modules which are wired together using banana cables. He’s using this homebrew step sequencer to control the bent karaoke machines which then feed into the rest of the synthesizer. If you’d like to bend your own barbie karaoke machine, [Peter] was kind enough to post schematics and instructions for his bends.